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UNITED STEELWORKERS AMERICA v. RAWSON

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 89-322 110 S. Ct. 1904, 495 U.S. 362, 109 L. Ed. 2d 362, 58 U.S.L.W. 4556, 1990.SCT.42488 <http://www.versuslaw.com> decided: May 14, 1990. UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO-CLCv.RAWSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR RAWSON, ET AL. CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF IDAHO. George H. Cohen argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Robert M. Weinberg, Julia P. Clark, Laurence Gold, Bernard Kleiman, Carl Frankel, Paul D. Carey, and James D. Nelson. Kenneth B. Howard argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Kerwin C. Bennett and Lloyd J. Webb.*fn* White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C.j., and Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 376. Author: White


CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF IDAHO.

White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C.j., and Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 376.

Author: White

 JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case because the decisions of the Supreme Court of Idaho, holding that petitioner may be liable under state law for the negligent inspection of a mine where respondents' decedents worked, raised important questions about the operation of federal and state law in defining the duties of a labor union acting as a collective-bargaining agent.

I

This dispute arises out of an underground fire that occurred on May 2, 1972, at the Sunshine Mine in Kellogg, Idaho, and caused the deaths of 91 miners. Respondents, the survivors of four of the deceased miners, filed this state law wrongful-death action in Idaho state court. Their complaint alleged that the miners' deaths were proximately caused by fraudulent and negligent acts of petitioner United Steelworkers of America (Union), the exclusive bargaining representative of the miners working at the Sunshine Mine. As to the negligence claim, the complaint specifically alleged that the Union "undertook to act as accident prevention representative and enforcer of an agreement negotiated between [sic] [the Union] on behalf of the deceased miners," App. 53-54, and "undertook to provide representatives who inspected spected [the Sunshine Mine] and pretended to enforce the contractual accident prevention clauses," id., at 54. Respondents' answers to interrogatories subsequently made clear that their suit was based on contentions that the Union had, through a collective-bargaining agreement negotiated with the operator of the Sunshine Mine, caused to be established a joint management-labor safety committee intended to exert influence on management on mine safety measures; that members of the safety committee designated by the Union had been inadequately trained on mine safety issues; and that the Union, through its representatives on the safety committee, had negligently performed inspections of the mine that it had promised to conduct, failing to uncover obvious and discoverable deficiencies. Id., at 82-83.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the Union, accepting the Union's argument that "federal law has pre-empted the field of union representation and its obligation to its membership," App. to Pet. for Cert. 164a, and that "[n]egligent performance of [a union's] contractual duties does not state a claim under federal law for breach of fair representation," id., at 163a. The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed. Dunbar v. United Steelworkers of America, 100 Idaho 523, 602 P. 2d 21 (1979). In the view of the Supreme Court of Idaho, although federal law unquestionably imposed on the Union a duty of fair representation of the miners, respondents' claims were "not necessarily based on the violation of the duty of fair representation and such is not the only duty owed by a union to its members." Id., at 526, 602 P. 2d, at 24. Three of the five justices concurred specially to emphasize that "the precise nature of the legal issues raised by [respondents'] wrongful death action is not entirely clear at the present procedural posture of the case," and that "a final decision whether the wrongful death action . . . is pre-empted . . . must therefore await a full factual development." Id., at 547, 602 P. 2d, at 25 (Bakes, J., specially concurring). We denied the Union's petition for certiorari. Steelworkers v. Dunbar, 446 U.S. 983 (1980).

After extensive discovery, the trial court again granted summary judgment for the Union. App. to Pet. for Cert. 89a-106a. As to respondents' fraud claim, the court concluded that the record was devoid of evidence supporting the contentions that the Union had made misrepresentations of fact, that the Union had intended to defraud the miners, or that the miners had relied on Union representations. Id., at 96a. On the negligence count, the trial court first noted that, in its view, respondents' claims centered on the collective-bargaining contract between the Union and the Sunshine Mine, especially Article IX of the agreement, which established the joint management-labor safety committee. Id., at 90a-91a. The trial court urged the State Supreme Court to reconsider its conclusion that respondents' state-law negligence claim was not pre-empted by federal labor law, reasoning that "[respondents] are complaining about the manner in which the Union carried out the collective bargaining agreement, essentially saying the Union advisory committee should have done more," and that respondents "are attempting to hold the [Union] liable on the basis of its representational duties." Id., at 103a-104a.

The Supreme Court of Idaho originally affirmed the grant of summary judgment on appeal. Id., at 49a-88a. On rehearing, however, the Idaho Supreme Court withdrew its prior opinion and concluded that respondents had stated a valid claim under Idaho law that was not pre-empted by federal labor law. Rawson v. United Steelworkers of America, 111 Idaho 630, 726 P. 2d 742 (1986). Distinguishing this Court's decision in Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202 (1985), which held that resolution of a state-law tort claim must be treated as a claim arising under federal labor law when it is substantially dependent on construction of the terms of a collective-bargaining agreement, the Supreme Court of Idaho stated that "in the instant case, the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement do not require interpretation, . . . but rather the provisions determine only the nature and scope of the Union's duty." 111 Idaho, at 640, 726 P. 2d, at 752. The court continued: "Our narrow holding today is that the Union, having inspected, assumed a duty to use due care in inspecting and, from the duty to use due care in inspecting arose the further duty to advise the committee of any safety problems the inspection revealed." Ibid. The court also affirmed the trial court's conclusion that summary judgment for the Union was proper on respondents' fraud claim. Id., at 633, 726 P. 2d, at 745.

The Union again petitioned for certiorari. While that petition was pending, we decided Electrical Workers v. Hechler, 481 U.S. 851 (1987), in which it was held that an individual employee's state-law tort suit against her union for breach of the union's duty of care to provide the employee with a safe workplace must be treated as a claim under federal labor law, when the duty of care allegedly arose from the collective-bargaining agreement between the union and the employer. Six days later, we granted the Union's petition, vacated the judgment of the Supreme Court of Idaho, and remanded this case for further consideration in light of Hechler. Steelworkers v. Rawson, 482 U.S. 901 (1987).

On remand, the Supreme Court of Idaho "adhere[d] to [its] opinion as written." 115 Idaho 785, 788, 770 P. 2d 794, 797 (1988). The court also distinguished Hechler, stressing that there we had considered a situation where the alleged duty of care arose from the collective-bargaining agreement, whereas in this case "the activity was concededly undertaken and the standard of care is imposed by state law without reference to the collective bargaining agreement." 115 Idaho, at 786, 770 P. 2d, at 795. The court further stated that it was "not faced with looking at the Collective Bargaining Agreement to determine whether it imposes some new duty upon the union -- rather it is conceded that the union undertook to inspect and, thus, the issue is solely whether that inspection was negligently performed under traditional Idaho tort law." Id., at 787, 770 P. 2d, at 796.

We granted certiorari, 493 U.S. 1017 (1990), and we now reverse.

II

Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (LMRA), 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), states:

"Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this Act, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties."

Over 30 years ago, this Court held that § 301 not only provides the federal courts with jurisdiction over controversies involving collective-bargaining agreements but also authorizes the courts to fashion "a body of federal law for the enforcement of these collective bargaining agreements." Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills of Alabama, 353 U.S. 448, 451 (1957). Since then, the Court has made clear that § 301 is a potent source of federal labor law, for though state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over controversies involving collective-bargaining agreements, Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.S. 502 (1962), state courts must apply federal law in deciding those claims, Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95 (1962), and indeed any state-law cause of action for violation of collective-bargaining agreements is entirely displaced by federal law under § 301, see Avco Corp. v. Machinists, 390 U.S. 557 (1968). State law is thus "pre-empted" by § 301 in that only the federal law fashioned by the courts under § 301 governs the interpretation and application of collective-bargaining agreements. In recent cases, we have recognized that the pre-emptive force of § 301 extends beyond state-law contract actions. In Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, supra, we held that a state-law tort action against an employer may be pre-empted by § 301 if the duty to the employee of which the tort is a violation is created by a collective-bargaining agreement and without existence independent of the agreement. Any other result, we reasoned, would "allow parties to evade the requirements of § 301 by relabeling their contract claims as claims for tortious breach of contract." Id., at 211. We extended this rule of pre-emption to a tort suit by an employee against her union in Electrical Workers v. Hechler, supra. There Hechler alleged that her union had by virtue of its collective-bargaining agreement with the employer and its relationship with her assumed the duty to ensure that she was provided with a safe workplace, and that the union had violated this duty. As in Allis-Chalmers, the duty relied on by Hechler was one without existence independent of the collective-bargaining agreement (unions not, under the common law of Florida, being charged with a duty to exercise reasonable care in providing a safe workplace, see 481 U.S., at 859-860), but was allegedly created by the collective-bargaining agreement, of which Hechler claimed to be a third-party beneficiary, see id., at 861. Because resolution of the tort claim would require a court to "ascertain, first, whether the collective-bargaining agreement in fact placed an implied duty of care on the Union . . ., and second, the nature and scope of that duty," id., at 862, we held that the tort claim was not sufficiently independent of the collective-bargaining agreement to withstand the pre-emptive force of § 301.

At first glance it would not appear difficult to apply these principles to the instant case. Respondents alleged in their complaint that the Union was negligent in its role as "enforcer of an agreement negotiated between [sic] [the Union] on behalf of the deceased miners," App. 53-54, a plain reference to the collective-bargaining agreement with the operator of the Sunshine Mine. Respondents' answers to inter-rogatories gave substance to this allegation by stating that "by the contract language" of the collective-bargaining agreement, the Union had caused the establishment of the joint safety committee with purported influence on mine safety issues, and that members of the safety committee had failed reasonably to perform inspections of the mine or to uncover obvious and discoverable deficiencies in the mine safety program. App. 82-83. The only possible interpretation of these pleadings, we believe, is that the duty on which respondents relied as the basis of their tort suit was one allegedly assumed by the Union in the collective-bargaining agreement. Prior to our remand, the Supreme Court of Idaho evidently was of this view as well. The court noted then that the Union could be liable under state tort law because it allegedly had contracted to inspect, and had in fact inspected, the mine "pursuant to the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement." 111 Idaho, at 638, 726 P. 2d, at 750. Although the Idaho Supreme Court believed that resolution of the tort claim would not require interpretation of the terms of the collective-bargaining agreement, it acknowledged that the provisions of that agreement determined "the nature and scope of the Union's duty," id., at 640, 726 P. 2d, at 752.

The situation is complicated, however, by the Idaho Supreme Court's opinion after our remand. Although the court stated that it adhered to its prior opinion as written, 115 Idaho, at 788, 770 P. 2d, at 797, it also rejected the suggestion that there was any need to look to the collective-bargaining agreement to discern whether it placed any implied duty on the Union. Rather, Idaho law placed a duty of care on the Union because the Union did, in fact, actively inspect the mine, and the Union could be held liable for the negligent performance of that inspection. Id., at 787, 770 P. 2d, at 796. According to the Supreme Court of Idaho, the Union may be liable under state tort law because its duty to perform that inspection reasonably arose from the fact of the inspection itself rather than the fact that the provision for the Union's participation in mine inspection was contained in the labor contract.

As we see it, however, respondents' tort claim cannot be described as independent of the collective-bargaining agreement. This is not a situation where the Union's delegates are accused of acting in a way that might violate the duty of reasonable care owed to every person in society. There is no allegation, for example, that members of the safety committee negligently caused damage to the structure of the mine, an act that could be unreasonable ...


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